NEW CANEY — The Salado Eagles were ready to give Carthage a fight Friday night but fell behind early and never caught up in the Bulldogs’ 35-7 victory in a Class 4A Division II Region III semifinal.

“They just have too much firepower to contain there,” Salado coach Alan Haire said of the top-ranked Bulldogs, who won the 4A Division I state title last season. “That’s why they are who they are.”

The seven-time state champion Bulldogs (11-0), who will face China Spring (10-2) in a state quarterfinal next week, looked like an ordinary team early on.

After losing 16 yards over its first three plays of the night, a Carthage punt pinned the Eagles (11-2) at their 1-yard line. A nice run by Wrook Brown got No. 6 Salado to the 9 before a false start penalty led to a punt.

“We had a first down but a false start put us back,” Haire said. “That would have set the tone a little different. But we didn’t make that play, so we have to move on.”

The Bulldogs scored on the ensuing possession. A 23-yard run by Mason Courtney highlighted an eight-play drive that was capped with a 4-yard touchdown run by Courtney for Carthage’s 7-0 lead with 5:31 to play in the opening quarter.

After Salado got to midfield before stalling on the ensuing possession, Brown’s punt pinned the Bulldogs at their 6.

That’s when Carthage began showing why it owns so many state championship trophies.

On the first play of the drive, quarterback Kai Horton hit Montrell Hatton, who was off to the races for a 94-yard touchdown that gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead with 2:31 left in the first quarter.

“That was tough to overcome,” Haire said. “They have some playmakers, and we just didn’t execute well in the first half.”

The Bulldogs added two more touchdowns before halftime, and their defense didn’t allow the Eagles a first down the rest of the half as Carthage took a 28-0 advantage into the break.

Salado totaled only 22 yards in the first half, compared to 259 for Carthage.

The Eagles tried to strike first after intermission, but their opening drive of the half ended when Hutton Haire’s quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 at the Bulldogs 49 came up inches short.

Carthage padded its lead to 35-0 on its ensuing possession, but the Eagles outplayed the Bulldogs the rest of the way.

Noah Mescher put Salado on the board with a 45-yard touchdown run on a fake punt with 1:10 left in the third — the first points Carthage had allowed over its last four games.

The Eagles later stopped the Bulldogs on fourth-and-6, and Salado marched from its 5 to inside the Carthage 20 but couldn’t convert on fourth down.

“That was great that Mescher put it in the end zone,” Alan Haire said. “We would have loved to get some extra points, but we missed a block (on fourth down) and didn’t get it.”

The Eagles finished with 209 yards, led by Mescher’s 91 yards rushing on 19 carries.

“To me, games come and go, but who you are stays the same,” Alan Haire said. “I hope the seniors develop into better people by being part of this program. I appreciate them and I look forward to coaching the younger kids. This group is easy to coach and a joy to be around.”

CARTHAGE 35, SALADO 7

Salado 0 0 7 0 — 7

Carthage 14 14 7 0 — 35

Car — Mason Courtney 4 run (Irvin Jimenez kick)

Car — Montrell Hatton 94 pass from Kai Horton (Jimenez kick)

Car — Craig McNew 5 pass from Horton (Jimenez kick)

Car — Kavonte Brown-Haskins 34 pass from Horton (Jimenez kick)

Car — Courtney 2 run (Pedro Garcia kick)

Sal — Noah Mescher 45 run (Wrook Brown kick)

TEAM STATISTICS

Sal Car

First downs 10 15

Rushes-yards 49-187 28-100

Passing yards 22 275

Comp.-Att.-Int. 2-2-0 14-18-0

Punts-average 4-48.8 1-59

Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0

Penalties-yards 4-28 2-10

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING — Salado, Mescher 19-91, Reid Vincent 12-63, Brown 12-40, Caden Strickland 1-0, Hutton Haire 5-(minus 7). Carthage, Courtney 20-106, Nick Stewart 3-11, Horton 2-6 Camden Foster 1-1, McNew 1-(minus 6), team 1-(minus 18).

PASSING — Salado, Haire 2-2-0-22. Carthage, Horton 14-18-0-275.

RECEIVING — Salado, Vincent 1-17, Brown 1-5. Carthage, Hatton 3-112, McNew 4-64, Montrell Smith 2-38, Brown-Haskins 2-38, Courtney 3-23.

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